Writing for Intellectual Properties

by Laura Kemmerer

lck1If you’re an author, chances are that your desire to write started with inspiration from a certain book, movie, or game. Maybe your love of Star Wars has followed you throughout your life. Writing for the intellectual properties we’ve all come to know and love so much is both possible and can be a huge asset to your authorial career. But it’s best to cover the basics first.

Copyright vs. Intellectual Property

When you create an original work, such as a novel, you are automatically awarded the copyright for that work. Copyright covers the distribution and use of the original work. If you sign your novel over to a publisher, you have most likely given that publisher your copyright for a specific amount of time. For example, if your contract says as much, the publisher can publish your work for three years before the copyright reverts back to you, the author. If you are concerned with protecting your work as much as possible (and a U.S. citizen), registering it with the U.S. Copyright Office is highly suggested.

Intellectual property—a term often erroneously used interchangeably with copyright—covers the creative expressions of a given copyright. IPs are what results from a copyrighted work. When you write an original novel, you also own the intellectual property that goes with that original work. Say you wrote a fantasy epic. While you initially own the copyright to that work, you also own the rights to any future creative expressions of that work, such as movies, other novels, etc. Novels and movies that take place within the Star Wars universe are intellectual properties of that franchise.

How to Get Work Writing for an Intellectual Property

You’ve most likely established your writing credentials by now. While having prior experience working for a similar IP is highly desirable, proving your ability through writing in similar genres is the second best step.

Writing for an Intellectual Property

Assuming you have an interest in writing for someone else’s intellectual property, it’s important to know your limitations and the framework you will be operating in. First and foremost: to write for a particular IP, you need to either have gained written permission to create a new work for that IP, or you should have been offered a contract to write something for them. Anything beyond this scope falls into a murky, high-risk legal area.

  1. Do your research.

If the IP you’re looking to write for currently has a call for submissions open and available, it should be rather easy to find their submissions page. Even if a particular IP isn’t looking for submissions, their guidelines should be up somewhere, so giving these a good look over will be a huge asset for your potential future projects. If you have been accepted to write for an IP, inquire about available materials you can work with/draw from for your specific assignment. Purchasing the necessary materials is something you may need to keep an eye out for.

  1. Gain at least a passing acquaintance with other works in this wheelhouse.

While your work is your own, there is definite merit in looking at what other, similar works have been published by this IP. Is there a specific style they want their fight scenes written in? Is there an overall flavor of triumph in the works? Keeping an eye out for these stylistic choices and tone will make the later editing process easier.

  1. Different projects require different focuses.

Writing a novel vs. writing a set of monsters may both tap into your creativity, but the requisites for each kind of work will be somewhat different. While you may not get to immediately write the novel you were hoping to, getting experience working for a specific IP will help you gain a clearer understanding of what is expected from the writing trenches themselves.

Finally getting to write for that dream IP may be a long road, but the experience that can be gained along the way is invaluable. One yes is all it takes.


Laura Kemmerer is an editorial consultant with her Bachelor of Arts in Writing from the University of Pittsburgh and her Master of Professional Studies (M.P.S.) in Publishing from The George Washington University. She currently serves as an editor for Limitless Publishing and Mobile Electronics Magazine. Find Laura at http://www.lauracatcopyediting.com.